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Boeing has created the lightest ever metal
A new material being developed by Boeing is as strong and rigid as a metal, but light enough to balance delicately on top of a dandelion without disturbing its seeds.
Called Microlattice, the material is 100 times lighter than styrofoam, and – besides resting on dandelions – could be used to build more fuel efficient airplanes. It’s also very strong, as it would need to be to withstand the pressures of hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour.
Boeing’s ultra-light metal was inspired by bones, which are both strong enough to protect us, but light enough for us to carry around all day. The Microlattice is made from interconnected nickel tubes that – like bones – are rigid on the outside, but hollow on the inside.
The thickness of these tubes is just 100 nanometers, which, for the sake of perspective, is said to be around 1,000 times thinner than human hair. As a result, the entire 3D structure is 99.99% air, giving it a huge compression potential – or, in other words, making it super strong.
‘Egg drop challenge’
Research scientist Sophia Yang uses the ‘egg drop challenge’ to explain the material’s benefits, explaining how you’d need very little of the material to protect an egg dropped from a tall building, rather than, say, a meter of bubble wrap.
For Boeing, this means the company could save a lot of weight when it comes to building its planes. Rather than replacing the hard steel exterior, though, it’s more likely to be used on less sensitive areas like inner walls, overhead cabins and walkways.
Never one to be outdone, Nasa has been working on a ‘self-healing’ material that could line the fuel tanks of future airplanes. Alt ought designed to protect the ISS from floating debris, the same technology might be applied to concrete or the screens of our smartphones.
While a research paper on Boeing’s Microlattice was first published in 2011, it’s since shown it off to the world in the video below;